Spirituality Matters 2019: January 3rd - January 9th

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(January 3, 2019: Most Holy Name of Jesus)
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“Those who have this hope based on him make themselves pure, as he is pure...”

Have you ever looked closely at the outside of a carton of Breyer’s Ice Cream? Somewhere in the vicinity of the image of the mint leaf you will find the “Pledge of Purity.” This trademarked pledge (inaugurated in 1908 by Henry Breyer himself) personally guaranteed that each container contained the highest-quality, all-natural ingredients available.

This notion of purity might be very helpful in our attempts to understand today’s selection from the First Letter of John. After all, who of us can claim to be “pure?” Who us can claim to be perfect? Who of us can claim to be without blemish? With the exception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, such “purity” is reserved for God, and for God alone.

So, where does that leave us?

Well, if being “pure” is about being all-natural, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being real, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being authentic, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being transparent, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being guileless, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about avoiding artificiality in any/all its forms, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being unadulterated, we can strive for that. In short, if being “pure” is about being true to whom God wants us to be - no more, no less – we can strive for that.

Look at the life of Jesus himself. He was all-natural. He was real. He was authentic. He was guileless. He was unadulterated. He was transparent. He eschewed anything artificial. In short, he was faithful to whom God wanted him to be: no more, no less.

How can we hope to imitate the purity of Jesus in our relationship with God, in our relationship with ourselves and in our relationships with one another? Help yourself to a heaping and healthy scoop of “Breyer’s” spirituality.

Avoid anything artificial! Keep it natural! Keep it real!

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(January 4, 2019: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious)
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“The person who acts in righteousness is righteous…”

In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell writes:

“For two hundred years American parochial schools have provided countless children with a solid education while teaching them how to be faithful Catholics and solid citizens. While parish schools aren’t as numerous as they once were – to say nothing of the legions of nuns that used to teach in them – the situation is not nearly as daunting as it was in Elizabeth Ann Seton’s day.”

“Mother Seton’s life coincides with the birth of the United States and the rise of the Catholic Church in America. She was born one year before the battles of Lexington and Concord, during an era when Catholicism was outlawed in every colony except Maryland. In British America, there were no bishops, no nuns, no Catholic schools and no seminaries. Only about twenty priests lived in the colonies, most living incognito and using aliases to avoid hard anti-clerical laws. For her part she grew up the daughter of a prominent, well-to-do Anglican family on Staten Island. During the revolution they walked a fine line between loyalty to the king and support for the rebels. Whatever her family’s true sympathies may have been, they were firmly in the American camp by the time George Washington was elected president: in fact, the then-fifteen year-old Elizabeth danced at the first inaugural ball.”

“At the age on nineteen she married William Seton, a wealthy New York merchant. The couple had five children – three girls and two boys – and enjoyed a life of comfort and privilege. After eight years of marriage, William’s business went bankrupt: shortly thereafter, he contracted tuberculosis. In an attempt to save William’s health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where William had business friends, the Filicchi family. He subsequently succumbed to his chronic illness. Elizabeth and her children remained as guests of the Filicchi’s for some time. Their hosts owned a private chapel that provided Elizabeth with her first exposure to the Catholic faith, about which two things impressed this widowed mother: the Filicchi’s reverence during Mass, and the comfort they appeared to receive from confession. Upon her return to New York, Elizabeth sought out the pastor of a local Catholic Church and asked to convert to Catholicism.”

“With few exceptions, Elizabeth’s Anglican family and friends turned their backs on her following her conversion. She struggled to support herself and her children until Bishop John Carroll invited her to open a Catholic school in the archdiocese of Baltimore. It was during this time that she began to consider joining a religious community. However, the European model of religious life – living a mostly cloistered life with only a few hours per day devoted to teaching girls who boarded at the convent – did not appeal to her. With so much work begging to be done for the Catholic Church in America, “Elizabeth wanted to be much more active. With Bishop Carroll’s encouragement, she founded a new community of sisters dedicated to the work of Catholic education: the Sisters of Charity. The opened America’s first parish school in Emmitsburg, Maryland on February 22, 1810.”

“The system established by Mother Seton conveyed the faith from generation to generation; it eased the passage of Catholic immigrants into American society; it served as the seedbed for countless vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Her teaching order offered a new model for religious women – sisters who were ‘in the world, but not of it.’ In the history of the Catholic Church in America, Mother Seton was – and continues to be – an indispensible woman.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 99-100)

Elizabeth Ann Seton was – indeed – a righteous person. She did the right thing by founding a community of religious women who dedicated their lives to parochial education: teaching children – many of them immigrants – how to be faithful Catholics and solid citizens.

Today how can we imitate her example by doing what is righteous – and being someone righteous – in the lives of others? How can we – like her – be “indispensible” citizens of the Kingdom of God?

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(January 5, 2018: John Neumann, Bishop)
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“Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and in truth...”

“This ‘American’ saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations: Bohemia was overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one needed any more priests. But John didn’t give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, Bishop John Dubois of New York agreed to ordain him but John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land. He was ordained the following year.”

“In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John’s parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor but that didn’t matter insofar as John spent most days traveling from village to village anyway, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables. Because of the work and the isolation associated with his remote outpost, John longed for community. In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena's in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was their first candidate in the New World. He took his vows as a member of the Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed as the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized citizen on 10 February 1848. John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system: he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to one hundred.”

“Neumann actively invited religious institutes to establish new houses within the diocese. In 1855, he supported the foundation of a congregation of religious sisters in the city, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. He brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany to assist in religious instruction and staffing an orphanage. He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution. Neumann's efforts to expand the Catholic Church were not without opposition. The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier immigrants to North America, was at the height of its activities. They set fire to convents and schools. Discouraged, Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue.”

“John never lost his love and concern for the people—something that may have bothered the elite of Philadelphia. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon’s contents, John joked, ‘Have you ever seen such an entourage for a bishop!’ The ability to learn languages that had brought John to America enabled him to learn enough Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch to hear confessions in, at least, six languages. When the a wave of Irish immigration reached American shores, John learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, ‘Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!’”

“John Neumann died of a stroke on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=70)

Notwithstanding his proficiency with languages, John Neumann is remembered less for the way he loved in words and more for the way he loved in deeds.

Could the same be said of us.


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(January 6, 2019: Epiphany of the Lord)
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“They prostrated themselves and did him homage: then, they opened their treasures....”

On the Feast of the Epiphany, Blessed Louis Brisson made the following observations:

“In the Orient that was a tradition that a new star would appear as a sign of redemption. If one would follow that star it would lead to the awaited Messiah. Thus, the Magi of the Orient who knew of this tradition - and who were versed in the study of the stars - one night noticed the star that was the precursor of the Messiah. Three in number the Magi – along with a great troop of servants – set out to follow it. The star led them to Jerusalem but stopped and disappeared.”

“The king who reigned in Judea at the time was Herod. Hiding his astonishment and hate, he called the doctors of the Law who declared that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod, then, took the Magi aside and said to them, ‘I did not know of the birth of the King, but when you have found Him, return to let me know so that I also might go and adore Him.’ When the Magi left Jerusalem, the star appeared anew and led them to Bethlehem. They approached the Child Jesus, adored Him and offered Him their presents.”

“My friends, each soul has its own little star, the star of its vocation, the star of the will of God which enlightens its life and shows it what God desires of it. Ask our Savior very fervently for the grace to be faithful to your star. In following it you will find Jesus with his love and graces as the Magi found Him in the manger.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 49)

Today how can you do homage to the Child Jesus? By opening the most valuable treasure of all - the God-given star of love within your heart.

And by following it!

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(January 7, 2019: Raymond of Penyafort, Priest)
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“They brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain…who were possessed…paralytics…and he cured them.”

“A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It may be caused by external factors or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions. In humans, ‘disease’ is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person. In this broader sense, it sometimes includesinjuries, disabilities, disorders, syndromes, infections, isolated symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts and for other purposes these may be considered distinguishable categories. Diseases usually affect people not only physically, but also emotionally, as contracting and living with many diseases can alter one’s perspective on life, and their personality.”

“People use metaphors to make sense of their experiences with disease. The metaphors move disease from an objective thing that exists to an affective experience. The most popular metaphors draw on military concepts: Disease is an enemy that must be feared, fought, battled, and routed. The patient or the healthcare provider is a warrior, rather than a passive victim or bystander. The agents of communicable diseases are invaders; non-communicable diseases constitute internal insurrection or civil war.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disease )

Look at the word closely: “dis-ease.” Dis-ease, then, is anything – be it physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual, material – that causes pain, discomfort, agitation, anxiety or distress. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus stands ready to receive any – and all – “dis-eases” with which we – or others we know – are afflicted. Jesus has the power to put us – or others we know – at ease.

How might Jesus put you “at ease” today? How might you imitate His example by doing the same for others?

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(January 8, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“In this is love: not that we have loved God but that God has loved us.”

In attempting to describe the ‘love of God,’ Francis de Sales wrote the following in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“This is not a love which natural powers – whether of angels or of men – can produce. It is the Holy Spirit who pours it into our hearts. Just as our souls which give life to our bodies do not take their origin from our bodies but are placed in our bodies by God’s natural providence, so also charity – that is, the love of God – which gives life to our hearts is not extracted from our hearts but is poured into them like a heavenly liquor by the supernatural providence of His divine majesty…We don’t love our parents because they belong to us; we love them because we belong to them. It is thus that we love and desire God: not that He may become our good, but because He is our good; not that He may become ours but because we are His. It is not as though He exists for us: we exist for Him.” (Living Jesus, p. 207; 209-210)

When we describe the “love of God,” we need to be crystal clear that the “love of God” is not about something we do for God - the “love of God” is all about God, and God’s love for us. That said, it says a great deal about God when we consider that God would share this most divine of gifts with us. What return can we possibly make to God for empowering each of us with so wonderful a gift? The truth is we can’t return it. However, we can share it!

With one another!

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(January 9, 2019: Christmas Weekday)
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“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment…”

And yet, we hear in the Book of Proverbs (9:10): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Solomon is warning his son that no matter how much knowledge you gain, unless you fear - or stand in total awe of - God, you will not know how to use it. This theme runs through most of the book of Proverbs. It is God who establishes what is moral, what is right and what is good. And if you have no plumb line for your behavior external to yourself, you are like a rudderless ship, driven by changing emotions and opinions and ideas. In that case, your knowledge will not do you -- or anyone else -- much good. You will cause far more disaster than good.

Keep in mind the key word is: beginning. Even the loftiest of projects has to start somewhere. In a perfect world, we would always do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Insofar as this world is anything but perfect, however, sometimes we do the right thing for fear of being punished, for fear of getting into trouble or for fear of losing out. St. Jane de Chantal once remarked: “The way of fear closes the heart and only ends in making us avoid evil and do good from the motive of being afraid of reprimands and penances.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 127, 0532) However, if our pursuit of wisdom never grows beyond fear, we are doomed to failure. Spiritual maturity requires that we grow beyond fear - that we leave fear behind.

Francis de Sales employs a powerful image to make this point. Referencing the famous scene in which Peter is invited by Jesus to walk upon tempestuous waters, Francis de Sales observed:

“Behold St. Peter. Fear is a greater evil than the evil that is feared. It would have caused him to perish in the waters had not his Master saved him. O child of little faith, fear not! You are walking on the waters – in the midst of the wind and waves – but it is with Jesus. If fear seizes you, cry loudly, ‘ Lord, save me or I perish!’ He will extend His hand to you; clasp it firmly and continue on joyously.” (Words of the Saints: St. Francis de Sales, p. 114)

Fear may be the beginning of wisdom, but as we grow in wisdom we find less use for fear. Where there is love – the fullness of love – there is no room or need – for fear at all.

God is love and there is no fear in Him.

Today what extent can the same be said of us?